Taliban infighting could benefit both US, Pak: NYT

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Washington, Aug.9 (ANI): An American counter-terrorism official has said that the infighting within the Taliban could provide an opportunity for both the United States and Pakistan to exploit the rivalries to their respective advantages.

According to the counter-terrorism official, one of those opportunities, from the American point of view, would be the ability to focus its fleet of drone aircraft on attacking militant leaders who were involved in the Afghan war, or on Qaeda leaders planning attacks against the West.

That has been a source of tension between the Americans and Pakistani officials, who had viewed the Mehsuds as the most urgent threat.

One Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the fighting could create an opening for the Haqqanis, another group that has close ties to Al Qaeda, to intervene in resolving the leadership issue.

Sirajuddin Haqqani is the point man in Pakistan for the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Details of the fighting were spotty on Saturday.

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, confirmed reports of a shootout at a meeting in South Waziristan and said one of the commanders had been killed but did not say who it was.

"The infighting was between Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud," Malik said, adding "We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming."

Reports received by government officials on Saturday indicated that Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud - a member of Baitullah's tribe but not a close relative - argued over succession at a tribal meeting at Sara Rogha in South Waziristan.

A shootout ensued, killing Mehsud and wounding Rehman, officials said.

A senior government official in Peshawar was quoted by the New York Times, as saying that Baitullah Mehsud's father-in-law, who had been at the meeting, was now in the custody of an opposing faction.

Beyond being a succession struggle, the infighting may also represent a deeper conflict over the goals and direction of the Pakistani Taliban.

A resident of the area who spoke by telephone on Saturday said foreign militants favored Mr. Rehman while local Mehsuds wanted Hakimullah to be their new leader.

The alliance between Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leaders goes back years in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where local Pakistani militants helped ferry Arab operatives back and forth across the border from Afghanistan. More recently it has surfaced in the attacks on Pakistan's major cities, far from the war-torn western tribal areas.

"They are interconnected," a Karachi counterterrorism official said, referring to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. "They depend on each other."

Clear evidence of that alliance, counterterrorism officials say, was the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

The bomber was an Afghan, trained by Taliban fighters in Mohmand Agency, part of the tribal area where the Mehsuds operate. But it was a Qaeda operative of Kenyan origin, Usama al-Kinni, who planned and financed the attack.

In an added complication with serious implications for security in Pakistan, the handlers and facilitators in that attack were from Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and strategic province, which itself has been the target of a series of suicide bombings and commando-style attacks since March. (ANI)

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